Academic distress commission proves its value to Youngstown

From Superintendent Connie Hathorn to the Youngstown Board of Education to the Youngstown City School District Academic Distress Commission, the feeling was the same: Sharon Butler should not continue as principal of the Chaney Campus.

However, when school board members voted to accept Hathorn’s recommendation of nonrenewal of Butler’s contract, they inadvertently violated a state law that provides a schedule of when such action can be taken.

The law requires that an administrator (such as a principal) be given a copy of his or her evaluation at least 60 days before any action on the employment contract can be taken by the board.

After the Youngstown school board voted not to keep Butler on staff, it was determined that the notification schedule in state law had been violated.

Given the prospects of a lawsuit by the former principal, the academic distress commission, which was empaneled after the urban district received a failing grade in the state academic proficiency tests, recommended that the school board rescind its action.

That occurred two weeks ago. Then last Thursday, the commission passed a resolution terminating Butler’s employment with the district.

What about the state law pertaining to the notification schedule?

In answering that question, commission Chairman Joffrey Jones revealed why the Youngstown school board and the district as a whole should welcome the panel’s presence — rather than take exception to the decisions being made.

The bottom line is that the school district is under pressure from the Ohio Department of Education to improve its “academic watch” rating — or else face the threat of a state takeover of the failing schools.

The district’s climb out of the academic cellar has not impressed state education officials because academic watch was achieved by an improvement in attendance — not academics.

The distress commission has a great deal of independence when it comes to formulating a recovery plan for the school system, including not having to adhere to state laws that govern school boards.

Hence, Chairman Jones’ willingness to step in and accomplish what the board had failed to do: the nonrenewal of Butler’s contract as principal of Chaney.

Pertinent question

School board Chairman Richard Atkinson asked a pertinent question that further makes the case for having the distress commission as an ally rather than an enemy.

Atkinson wanted to know who would be sued if the former principal decided not to accept her termination. Here’s what Atty. Michael T. Fisher, the commission’s lawyer, said:

“I don’t know who would be sued. The commission took the action, not the board. I don’t represent the board.”

As this case illustrates, there are many issues that could stymie the board, but would not be a problem for the commission.

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